After the Senate voted against calling new witnesses and documents in the impeachment trial on Friday (January 31), the chamber will soon move to vote on whether to convict President Donald Trump on two counts: abuse of power, and obstruction of Congress. This week was a wild one, and there’s plenty to catch up on.
To catch you up:
Six months ago, President Donald Trump called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and asked him to investigate potential 2016 election interference based on a conspiracy theory and to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter. Trump also allegedly held up $400 million in pre-approved military aid as a reward that dirty work. A whistleblower complaint about the call led to private and public Congressional hearings featuring everyone from Ambassador Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, to Fiona Hill, Trump’s senior Russia advisor. The following weeks in Washington, D.C. were filled with dogs, drag queens, Kim Kardashian and A$AP Rocky name-drops, weird turkey pardons, deadline promises made and not kept, and a House Judiciary Committee vote. In late December, the House of Representatives officially impeached Trump. Then, after weeks of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi hold off on sending the articles of impeachment over to the Senate, the impeachment finally moved from the House to the Senate, and the trial began.
So what happened this week?
Saturday, January 25 and Sunday, January 26
We don’t normally talk about the weekend, but this one was a little more involved than most: The White House began its defense of Trump on Saturday (January 25). Per the Senate’s rules, the defense was able to spend 24 hours over the course of three days — Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday — to make Trump’s case, but White House counsels didn’t use all their available time. Instead, they wrapped after just two hours and said they’d continue on Monday afternoon, per the New York Times. As CNN reported, Trump’s defense lawyers spent their short time arguing that Democrats are pushing for impeachment on purely political grounds and that they’re afraid they can’t win the 2020 election without Trump out of office. (The polls pitting Democratic primary candidates against Trump are pretty mixed, so there’s no definitive way to say if this claim is in any way based in fact.) But lawyers also claimed there weren’t any direct witnesses to any wrongdoing — a point that must have infuriated Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has spent the past month trying to convince Senate Republicans to let more witnesses speak. In addition to Trump and Zelensky, there were at least seven known participants on the phone call.
“So the President’s counsel is criticizing the case against the President for lack of sources close to the President while at the same time blocking testimony from witnesses close to the President,” Schumer said. “It makes no sense.”
On Sunday (January 26), the New York Times released a bombshell report from former security advisor John Bolton’s forthcoming book that alleges first-hand knowledge of Trump bribing Ukraine for personal and political gain. This is important because it undercuts Trump’s argument that the holdup in aid was separate from the request to investigate the Bidens. Democrats saw this as a potential opportunity to convince Republicans to allow Bolton to testify.
Monday, January 27
In a continuation of Saturday’s arguments, Trump’s lawyers took to the Senate floor to argue on behalf of his acquittal — but the Bolton news from Sunday (January 26) threw a bit of a wrench in that plan. In public, Trump lawyers barely acknowledged the New York Times report. But behind the scenes, things were getting messy: Democrats were trying to sway Republicans to vote to allow more witnesses and Trump tweeted that Bolton was only saying it was quid pro quo because he was trying to sell books.
All the while, the Times reported new revelations on Monday, including that Bolton told Attorney General William Barr that he was worried Trump was doing personal favors for “autocratic leaders.”
Tuesday, January 28
Trump’s lawyers had another quick day on Tuesday, concluding their opening arguments in less than 90 minutes. White House counsel Pat Cipollone asked senators to vote for an acquittal to “end the era of impeachment.”
During that hearing, something unheard of happened: Sen. Mitt Romney tried to take his bottle of chocolate milk onto the Senate chamber. I know what you’re thinking: “That’s so dangerous! Anything could be in that tiny brown-spotted bottle! This is making a mockery of the entire system! Stop him!!” Thankfully, he was stopped by a page, who poured his milk into a glass, VICE reported.
After Mr. Trump’s legal team finished, Romney, his milk, and all of the other Republican senators met to discuss whether they should allow more witnesses. They didn’t come to a clear decision, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a private meeting that Republicans didn’t yet have enough votes to block witnesses, the New York Times reported. If more are allowed, there’s a chance the hearings could continue for weeks.
Wednesday, January 29
After hearing from the House managers and Trump’s lawyers, Senators were finally allowed to ask their questions — but not out loud. Since silence and order are of utmost importance, Senators asked questions by writing them down and sending them to presiding Justice John Roberts, who then asked them out loud. Democrats tried to ask leading questions that would determine just how impeachable Trump’s actions were, and Republicans asked leading questions that would determine just how awful House managers were.
It was during these questions that something truly wild happened: Trump’s lawyer Alan Dershowitz basically said that anything the president does to be re-elected can be seen as an effort to help the national security and is therefore not impeachable, CNN reports.
“A complex middle case is, ‘I want to be elected. I think I’m a great president. I think I’m the greatest president there ever was, and if I’m not elected, the national interest will suffer greatly.’ That cannot be an impeachable offense,” Dershowitz said.
This line of reasoning could carry over to the question of adding witnesses — after all, if bribing another nation to dig up dirt of a political rival for purely personal reasons isn’t impeachable, then corroborating witnesses to that accusation won’t do much to change the verdict. Schumer, for his part, said Democrats are struggling to get the votes to allow additional witnesses. “We’ve always known it will be an uphill fight on witnesses and documents because the president and Mitch McConnell put huge pressure on these folks,” Schumer said, according to the New York Times.
In a question she submitted to Chief Justice Roberts, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) compared Trump to former President Richard Nixon — and simultaneously made the Supreme Court Justice recite a quote from Trump’s resurfaced Access Hollywood interview in the process.
“President Nixon said, “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal,” Harris said through Justice Roberts, referencing the then-President’s infamous interview with David Frost. “Before he was elected, President Trump said, ‘When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.’ After he was elected, President Trump said that Article II of the Constitution gives him ‘the right to do whatever [he] want[s] as president. These statements suggest that each of them believed that the president is above the law — a belief reflected in the improper actions that both presidents took to affect their reelection campaigns. If the Senate fails to hold the president accountable for misconduct, how would that undermine the integrity of our system of justice?”
Rep. Adam Schiff answered: “Senators, I think this is exactly the fear. If you look at the pattern in this president's conduct in his words, what you see is a president who identifies the state as being himself. When the president talks about people that report his wrongdoing, for example, when he describes a whistleblower as a traitor or a spy. The only way you can conceive of someone who reports wrongdoing as committing a crime against the country is if you believe you are synonymous with the country.”
Thursday, January 30
Legislators asked more questions and debated Wednesday’s issue of “Can Trump Even Be Impeached If He Did Ask A Foreign Nation To Dabble In The U.S. For His Own Personal And Political Gain?” Schiff argued that, yes, “Public officials are inherently political animals,” but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be consequences for corrupt behavior, according to the Washington Post. “We’re not talking about taking away someone’s liberty. We’re talking about a political punishment for a political crime.”
Things also got a bit heated for Supreme Court Justice John Roberts on Thursday when Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) tried to out the whistleblower by asking a question with their name in it. Roberts had to say, “Nah, we good,” because he didn’t want to name the whistleblower, and refused to read his question out loud.
The discomfort wasn’t over for Roberts yet, though, given that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sassed the heck out of the Chief Justice. She sent him this question to read out loud: “At a time when large majorities of Americans have lost faith in government, does the fact that the Chief Justice is presiding over an impeachment trial in which Republican senators have thus far refused to allow witnesses or evidence contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the Chief Justice, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution?”
Friday, January 31
After four hours of debate, the Senate voted against calling new witnesses and documents in the impeachment trial on a nearly party-line vote, according to the New York Times. The only Republican senators who broke with their party and voted for allowing the additional information were Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine. The final vote was 51-49.
“The facts will come out — in all of their horror, they will come out,” Schiff said before the vote. “The witnesses the president is concealing will tell their stories. And we will be asked why we didn’t want to hear that information when we had the chance. What answer shall we give if we do not pursue the truth now?”
Now, the Senate moves on to the final stage of the trial. Lawmakers would need to vote with a two-thirds majority, or 67 votes, to convict Trump of wrongdoing and remove him from office. Otherwise, he’ll be acquitted of wrongdoing — though he’ll still have technically been impeached. That vote will likely take place within the next week. Stay tuned!